"Millennial", "Generation Y" or, according to Bret Easton Ellis, "Generation Wuss". Whatever you want to call this current crop of 18 to 30-year-olds, we're constantly getting the shit kicked out of us for the crime of being born during a period that both hangs success in front of our faces, while crushing any real hope of ever attaining it.
Gregor, a new independent British film, hones in on this generational problem, following the life of a 20-something after he's sacked from an internship for a £70,000 a year job. It's about wanting to break out of type, but not having the impetus to go about doing it because everywhere you look there's reconfirmation that you're "narcissistic", "privileged" and "lazy".
His solution is the film's tagline: "Do Nothing", which is a reaction to the conflict of external pressure to fulfil social goals (great job, fit partner, house-with-no-mortgage) and internal ambitions (become a world-renowned house DJ, collect Byzantine mosaics, publish a pamphlet of politically charged poetry on rice paper).
The film was funded by £8,000 raised on Kickstarter and managed to become a vastly superior movie to Zach Braff's latest, which went through the same crowd-sourcing machine and raised upwards of £1.2 million. Choosing to eschew angst for happiness, Gregor is as funny and uplifting as a movie about being a total fuck-up can possibly be.
I spoke to Mickey Down and Konrad Kay - the director/writer team - about the notoriety of Gen Y, their comedic influences and packing in a finance job to become a filmmaker.
VICE: What came first - the character of Gregor or the themes you wanted to explore?
Mickey Down: It's the chicken and the egg - one informed the other. Konrad and I had always wanted to create something about how we interpreted the experience of being in your mid-twenties.
Konrad: Fundamentally, it tells the story of a guy who chooses the path of least resistance, with his eyes on a prize that he can't be bothered to work for. The character of Gregor aimed to sum up all those feelings of mid-20s angst, ambition and aspiration within a character that may be slightly feckless but ultimately isn't a bad guy. It's not gloomy. It's a comedy.
What drew me to Gregor originally was the tagline and the poster, both of which sum up the film pretty nicely.
Mickey: Yeah, Gregor is a guy who wants it all - even if "all' means a carton of milk, a widescreen TV and a box set of The Sopranos - but in return for as little effort as possible. That's the way the Penrose stairs on the poster came about...
Konrad: He's locked in a never-ending cycle of pleasure and punishment, getting nowhere and learning nothing.
Gregor waits around for good things to come to him, without doing any work. I wonder whether you thought this was a widespread thing for young people?
Mickey: I don't know if we would go as far as to say that it's "a widespread thing", but feel that one of the characteristics of this generation - in the Western world certainly - is that its expectations far outweigh what, in many scenarios, is realistically possible. The initial tagline for the film was "a generation who feel they can do anything by right and end up doing nothing by default", and it was always these kinds of characters that we wanted to explore.
Konrad: There's a feeling among certain young people like Gregor that, because you've been privileged with a good education and all the tools needed for success, you can wait around and let that success find you, rather than going out there and achieving it yourself.
So why is this laziness particular to our generation? Why us, why now?
Mickey: That's a difficult question. Maybe there's a tendency for millennials to feel oppressed by a lack of opportunity, the state of the economy, to play the victim: "Have you seen the state of shit out there? It's not my fault. Turn on the TV." To give a non-generic answer: maybe one point of difference is the instant affirmation of social media - "likes" on Instagram and stuff. That whole currency gives you a weird kind of satisfaction, a momentary sense of achievement. Give yourself enough of those little fixes of social approval and you feel like you've achieved something. You don't need to get off your arse to feel that.
This is your first film - what were your influences?
Konrad: We really wanted to marry a completely natural tone of acting with absurd or heightened situations. Some early episodes of Louie, like the one where his date leaves in a helicopter, does that really nicely. The other influences are too wide to list - Lena Dunham, Peep Show, Woody Allen, Withnail and I. We're obsessed with comedy, so it's all there. That said, we're massively influenced by Steve McQueen, especially Shame, and there are some scenes that purposefully pay homage to that film.
Mickey: A lot of the way it looked was in co-ordination with our DOP, Sam Goldwater. We thought there was no reason that a comedy shouldn't look good and be nicely framed. That look doesn't have to be just for art house stuff.
Before making the film, you guys also worked in business, so a lot of your own lives echo throughout the film. Are you guys Gregor, or are you better than him?
Mickey: No. Gregor has too much sex. That was other people. I'm sure we've all fucked up and made as many bad decisions as Gregor, but unlike him I'd like to think we're slightly better at learning from our mistakes.
Gregor also satirises big business and huge salaries. What advice would you give young people who want to work for the highest possible salary?
Mickey Do whatever makes you happy and fulfils your potential. For us, working in finance was never going to work out because we were pretty shit at it. Konrad got fired and I jumped before I was pushed.
Konrad: Then again, we have friends who work in finance who absolutely love it and who we couldn't possibly imagine doing anything else. If you think being a banker is going to fulfil your potential and make you happy, then go for it. We're not nihilists.
Gregor is currently showing at Raindance Film Festival.
More stuff like this: